Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Suffragette and Spectre

Tonight Onagh and I met up for a bit of a British movie double header at the Kino Cinemas. Our first film was Suffragette, a historical drama about the British suffrage movement in the early 20th century. It stars Carey Mulligan as Maud Watts, a laundry worker who gradually becomes a suffragette through some women she works with and interactions with others she encounters along the way, including Edith Ellyn (Helena Bonham Carter) and Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep). There is huge personal cost for many of these working women as their activism makes them get shunned by their employers, families and communities due to their increasingly militant activities which result in them getting thrown in jail. The film culminates at the Epsom Derby as they try to get media attention for the suffrage cause as King George V is in attendance. It wasn't until 1928 that all women over the age of 21 got the right to vote in England.

Our next movie was Spectre, the latest James Bond film (and complete opposite of what we had just seen). While I have viewed bits and pieces of Bond films over the years I don't think I've ever actually watched one from start to finish. Spectre begins in Mexico City at a Dias de los Muertos parade as Bond (Daniel Craig) takes down an assassin who is part of the global criminal organisation SPECTRE. Although he has been suspended from the field by M (Ralph Fiennes), who is battling C to keep the 00 program alive, Bond slips out the country to learn more about SPECTRE and fight its leader Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz). The film's action sequences are completely over the top, as you would expect from a big budget Bond film. While I found Bond's immediate hook-ups with the women he meets to be ridiculous, the film overall was entertaining although a bit too long.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Indie Australia Sampler Vol. 6

As we come to the end of another year, here are some of my favorite Australian tracks from 2015 that have made it onto my annual sampler CD. It's a pretty eclectic collection for a year that has seen a lot of fantastic new releases.

1. Crayon Fields - "She's My Hero"

2. San Cisco - "RUN"

3. Dan Kelly - "Never Stop The Rot"

4. Sarah Blasko - "I'd Be Lost"

5. Brous - "The Sound"

6. L-FRESH The LION - "Get Mine"

7. Omar Musa - "Dead Centre"

8. Saskwatch - "In Your Arms"

9. The Harpoons - "Ready For Your Love"

10. The Ocean Party - "Aircon"

11. Oh Mercy - "Sandy"

12. Boy & Bear - "A Thousand Faces"

13. Holy Holy - "You Cannot Call For Love Like A Dog"

14. Rolls Bayce - "Lost"

15. The Stiffys - "Kick Another Flip"

16. The Basics - "Roundabout"

17. Marlon Williams - "Hello Miss Lonesome"

18. Fraser A. Gorman - "Shiny Gun"

19. Henry Wagons - "Cold Burger, Cold Fries"

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Christmas In Sorrento

A few of my friends were kind enough to extend invitations to me to join them for Christmas, and I took up the first offer I received from Onagh to join her and her extended family in Sorrento along the Mornington Peninsula. We got a ride down to her cousin's place, which has recently finished being renovated and has a great beachy vibe.

We had a beautiful spread of food for Christmas lunch, with a salmon roulade to start and then ham, turkey, stuffing, potatoes, snow peas and a couple salads to eat for the main. Everyone wore their crowns from the Christmas crackers, and we enjoyed the breeze out on the deck during the hot afternoon.

After opening presents and having a bit of Christmas pudding for dessert, everyone headed down to the beach at Lavender Hill, home of the Sorrento Sailing Couta Boat Club. It was a beautiful afternoon and swimming in the water from the bay was the perfect way to cool down.

We headed back to the house for some more celebrations in the evening before heading back to Onagh's aunt's house up the road to sleep. It was a very Aussie way to spend my Christmas, although tempered by the bushfires in Wye River and Separation Creek along the Great Ocean Road which saw the loss of 116 homes.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Kit Kat Studio

If you have ever wanted to create your own custom Kit Kat bar now is your chance as the Kit Kat Studio is open at Melbourne Central until 17 January 2016. It's a pretty simple process to make your own personalised Kit Kat bar, which is also a great gift idea. First you choose your chocolate (white, milk or dark) and then create your signature flavor by choosing up to three different ingredients from the range of 17 on offer.

Once you design your personalised packaging, the Kit Kat employees will hand make your creation and then text you when it's ready for pick up in a few hours. If you don't want to wait there are some pre-made special edition flavors available for the holidays. I got the butterscotch fudge, pretzel and pecan one, which was quite good.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Holiday Season In Melbourne

As someone who did not grow up celebrating the holidays in the southern hemisphere, it is hard to get my mind to equate Christmas with summer. The only things that remind me are the holiday decorations around the Melbourne CBD (which I will note are only Christmas and not other holidays such as Hanukkah). There are the annual items like the Myer Christmas Windows, City Square becoming "Christmas Square," light projections on Melbourne Town Hall, and decorations on Flinders Street Train Station. This year they have added a lit Merry Christmas sign across the Yarra River on the Princes Bridge, and a Lego Christmas tree in Federation Square. It's going to be a warm one this year, and my first Christmas back in town after spending the last three years overseas celebrating with family.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Din Tai Fung

The Din Tai Fung Taiwanese restaurant chain opened their first Melbourne restaurant in June this year. Located on Level 4 of Emporium, there is a lot of space in this 235-seat restaurant and service is pretty fast once you are seated. We went to check out the steamed dumplings and buns, ordering the vegetable and pork wontons, xiao long bao, vegetable and pork buns, and the limited dumpling gems in a variety of different colors and flavors. While their dumplings are world renowned, I thought they tasted good but didn't really surpass my favorite dumpling and steamed bun places in Melbourne.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Father John Misty- The Forum

Tonight Father John Misty played a second night at The Forum in a sold out show to support his latest album I Love You, Honeybear. Opening the evening was Tame Impala bass player Cam Avery, who played a solo set mostly on guitar, with some piano and loops thrown in.

The band came out and started playing "I Love You, Honeybear," with Father John Misty (aka Josh Tillman) emerging on stage in time for the first verse. Dressed in all black he writhed around the stage and sounded fantastic as he sang songs off both his albums. Highlights of the set included "True Affection," "When You're Smiling And Astride Me" and "Chateau Lobby #4 (In C For Two Virgins)" off I Love You, Honeybear and "Only Son Of A Ladiesman," "Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings" and "Nancy From Now On" from Fear Fun. Josh was hilarious and interacted with the crowd all night. He asked how many people had jumped on the bandwagon due to his best limited edition packaging Grammy nomination for I Love You, Honeybear. Then during "Bored In The USA" he grabbed someone's phone midway through and filmed himself singing with the crowd able to see his face on the phone screen.

For the encore Josh began with a Q&A session with the crowd, with the most interesting response being the last one where he combined two questions: Are you into butt play and why the alter ego? He then played "I Went To The Store One Day" solo on guitar to a hushed crowd, and brought out the band to finish the night with "Everyman Needs A Companion." It was a great show and a pleasure to watch such an entertaining frontman have the audience in the palm of his hand.

Here's the video for "I Love You, Honeybear"

Monday, November 30, 2015

Expat Observations: Real Estate

Would you pay $1.5 million for this?
Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area made me used to insane real estate prices, but even I have been floored by the Australian obsession with property. In the 10 years I have lived here the median house price in Melbourne has gone from $350,000 to $729,500. To put this number into perspective, the median house price in the Bay Area is currently $790,500. I love Melbourne, but it is no Bay Area.

Each week there are breathless articles in the papers about Saturday auction results, clearance rates and houses that have gone $100,000+ over their reserve. One recent example is this two-bedroom home in Hawthorn which was bought in 1970 for $10,000, has been uninhabitable since 1983, and sold for $1.51 million. Yes, someone paid that much for a tear down.

So what is causing these ridiculous prices? Australia escaped the worst of the GFC and never had a property market crash. Prices have been going up an average of 6 per cent a year since the 1990s. We have low interest rates, a tax system that favors investors instead of owner-occupiers with negative gearing and capital gains tax, and stamp duty instead of land tax which adds a huge up front cost to buying a house. There is also no independent reporting of the housing sector as the media use figures directly from the Real Estate Institute and newspapers are reliant on the advertising revenue from their property sections.

Prices are currently seven times average household income (instead of the normal three). People have been calling out this housing bubble for years, but it has yet to burst. Politicians don't want a crash to happen so they have been doing everything in their power to keep the housing market propped up. In addition, because all this money across the nation is stuck in a non-productive asset, it means it is not being invested in the stock market or businesses and helping to grow and expand the economy. The day of reckoning is coming, and it's not going to be pretty.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Expat Observations: Food

Melbourne is the foodie capital of Australia. There is no shortage of options for restaurants around the city to meet your culinary needs. This is the result of successive waves of immigration and each new group bringing its cuisine to the food scene. It's one of the many benefits of living in such a multicultural city.

New hot spots pop up all the time (usually easy to spot because of the long lines out front) and different cuisine trends come and go. Mexican food has gotten increasingly better over the last few years, which is a great relief for me. The American food trend is still going strong, although it is mainly focused on barbecue, Southern or New York deli style foods. My friend Danny and I started our food blog Eagle vs Roo in order to explore how authentic all these American places are.

Melbourne is also home to some amazing patisseries, many of which are located in South Yarra. It is a really creative part of the food scene as they all push the envelope to create innovative flavor combinations and desserts.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Expat Observations: Drinking

Alcohol is a huge part of Australian culture. Most social gatherings will involve drinking of some sort and often lead to binge drinking. Even at work, going out for Friday night drinks is a regular occurrence and can extend late into the night. When I first arrived in Australia it was a shock how much alcohol people would consume. Having a big night out and bragging about it was commonplace. Moderation just didn't seem to exist, and for someone who isn't really much of a drinker, it was hard to convince others that no, I don't need another drink.

More recently I think attitudes to alcohol have been gradually changing here. Daily drinking is in decline, and younger people are abstaining more. There are fundraiser events to encourage people to take a break from alcohol for a month with Dry July and Ocsober. The Hello Sunday Morning initiative is also gaining traction in trying to change people's relationship with alcohol and getting them to drink in moderation. These are all positive signs, but until people realise that you don't have to have a drink to have a good time, there won't be a true shift in society to responsible drinking.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Marlon Williams- Prince Bandroom

It was a sold out show at the Prince Bandroom tonight to celebrate the release of New Zealander Marlon Williams's debut eponymous album. Belinda and I arrived towards the end of Ben Salter's opening set, but the couple songs we did hear sounded good.

Marlon came out onto the stage solo and began the evening with an acoustic version of Roberta Flack's "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face." He then started to bring out his band The Yarra Benders along with singer Aldous Harding. The set was a mix of songs from his album and covers, which crossed a variety of musical styles from folk to country to bluegrass. Highlights included "After All," "Lonely Side Of Her," "I'm Lost Without You," "The Ballad Of Minnie Dean" and "Dark Child," which was done with Ben Salter.

Marlon has such an incredible voice with this Maori lilt to it that adds another dimension to his vocals. He finished the main set with my favorite track off the album, the barnstorming "Hello Miss Lonesome." For the encore he played "When I Was A Young Girl" solo on acoustic guitar, and then he and the band brought the house down with an impassioned cover of Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "Portrait Of A Man" to finish the night. It was such a privilege to be able to see Marlon play live, and he has certainly earned all the acclaim coming his way.

Here's the video for "Hello Miss Lonesome" (warning NSFW):

Expat Observations: Cultural Cringe and Tall Poppy Syndrome

Despite the success of Australians in many different fields, the cultural cringe is still alive and well. The only proof you need is to look at the various award shows or sporting events celebrating Australian achievement that for some reason need to have an international guest to make it relevant and valid. Just this year alone we have had the following visitors to our shores:
There is so much talent in Australia and it makes me mad that they don't get the opportunity to showcase themselves on a national stage because slots are being taken up by someone from overseas. This sham was exposed brilliantly in 2006 when the late Joan Rivers presented with The Today Show's entertainment reporter Richard Wilkins at the Logies and questioned why she was there.

The other side of this equation is the unique Australian phenomenon of tall poppy syndrome. They will celebrate the international success of our Nicole, our Hugh, our Cate and our Russell, but if any of them appear to be acting like they are better than everyone else then they will be chopped down to size in the media.

The latest victim of this is Bindi Irwin, who just won the US version of Dancing With The Stars. On the panel show The Verdict this week, former Australian Senator Amanda Vanstone actually said after clips were shown of Bindi, "Give me a break. She's not the only kid whose father has died. My father died when I was young; it happens to lots of kids. It doesn't make her special." This is possibly the meanest thing anyone has ever said about her. While Bindi's positivity and passion for wildlife is celebrated in the United States, I feel like if she had competed in our version of Dancing With The Stars she would have never won.

Many Australians would rather cut you down than celebrate your successes. It's an unfortunate national trait and one that can deter people from making a huge effort and expressing their pride at accomplishing something big in their life.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Liam Finn and Dan Kelly- The Shadow Electric

Tonight was Finn Kelly 2.0 at The Shadow Electric at Abbotsford Convent with Liam Finn and Dan Kelly playing a dual headline show together. Opening proceedings was Palm Springs who played a solo set on electric guitar as her drummer had just had a baby.

It was the Kelly family band with Dan on guitar and his cousins Maddy and Memphis doing backing vocals. They started the night with "Baby Bonus" and then launched into "The Catholic Leader" (an appropriate song considering the venue). Dan gave hilariously detailed explanations to intro each of his songs, and apologised for working blue throughout the night. The set was more subdued due to not having the full band like at his album launch a few weeks ago. Highlights included "Never Stop The Rot, "Gold Coast Man," "Drunk On Election Night" and "Bindi Irwin Apocalypse Jam." The set closed with "Dan Kelly's Dream" complete with a conga line going through the crowd.

Liam Finn came out onto the stage wearing a black beaded jacket over his black shirt and was joined by EJ Barnes. It was just like old times as they began their set with "Fire In Your Belly" and "Better To Be" and used loops to create the layers of sound. It's been over 4 years since I last saw Liam do a proper live show here (not counting last week's SUCCESS performance) so it was exciting to get the chance to hear many of these old songs live again, as well as The Nihilist tracks for the first time. EJ sang "On Your Side" from the Champagne In Seashells EP, and "Second Chance" had Liam hopping onto the drum kit at the end.

They brought out their bandmate Jim to play bass and then kicked into some tracks off the new album, including "Snug As Fuck," "Miracle Glance" (complete with theremin), "Ocean Emmanuelle" and my favorite "Burn Up The Road." Liam made up a song on the spot for Mistletone Records, who put together this little tour. He also played the New Zealand national anthem on guitar to counter Dan's Australia tracksuit jacket and his playing of the Australian national anthem earlier (Liam did note he was wearing all black). To finish off the main set they played "I'll Be Lightning" and had everyone singing along at the end. For the encore Liam stripped off his shirt and put on the beaded jacket and got Dan out on stage to do an energetic cover of Devo's "Gut Feeling." It was an amazing finish to a fantastic double bill and a great way to spend my Thanksgiving night.

Here is one of the best videos Liam has ever made: "Wrestle With Dad"

Expat Observations: The Tyranny Of Distance

Geoffrey Blainey's book The Tyranny Of Distance explored how Australia's distance and isolation has shaped its national identity. This island continent is a long way away from most other countries in the world. There is no quick trip home for me as a direct flight from Australia to the West Coast is 14 hours (plus a few more hours because there are no direct flights from Melbourne to San Francisco).

Today is Thanksgiving and it's on these holidays that I feel this tyranny of distance the most. Over these past 10 years abroad I have missed holidays, family and friends' birthdays, special events and family crises that I should have been there for. I have made it home for the past three Christmases, but will be staying in Australia this year. This is the life of the expat and the trade offs you have to make when you decide to live in another country.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Expat Observations: Domestic Violence

Today is White Ribbon Day, a national day to stop men's violence against women. According to Destroy The Joint, 78 women have been killed by violence this year in Australia. Last year the number was 84. Police are dealing with domestic violence incidents every two minutes. A woman is hospitalised every three hours and there are over 100,000 apprehended violence orders (AVOs or protection orders) that have been taken out nationally.

The conversation about domestic violence in Australia became a national one through Rosie Batty, who is the 2015 Australian of the Year. In 2014 Rosie's 11 year-old son Luke was murdered by his own father at cricket practice. Rosie spoke openly and honestly to the media just hours after his murder and raised the consciousness of domestic violence across the country. Through the Luke Batty Foundation, Rosie is working to give victims a voice and demand that Australia's leaders act.

On this White Ribbon Day I remember my cousin Marie, who was murdered six years ago by her boyfriend at the age of 28.

If you are in Australia and need help, call the National Sexual Assault, Family and Domestic Violence Counseling Line on 1-800-RESPECT.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Expat Observations: Leave Entitlements

Australians have some of the best leave entitlements in the world. Full time employees get a minimum of four weeks paid annual leave each year, often with this great thing called leave loading paid on top of your normal salary (typically 17.5% of your base rate of pay). In addition, if you have worked for an employer for more than seven years, you can access long service leave pro-rated, which is worth three months at the end of 10 years of service. For personal leave (sick or carers) the entitlement is a minimum of 10 days each year.

The United States, by comparison, is the only developed country in the world without legally required paid annual or sick leave. Most people do get at least 10 days annual leave though depending on their years of service. So while Americans sometimes get made fun of for not leaving the country, when you consider how little leave they have in comparison to everyone else it's no surprise they tend to stay closer to home.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Expat Observations: Anti-Americanism

This morning one of my work colleagues said she didn't like the movie Bridge Of Spies because it was "too American and schmaltzy." I have had other people make similar offhanded comments in my presence without a second thought. In all these instances American is always code for bad. It's like some deeply ingrained prejudice that most Australians have, and it drives me nuts. I'll often respond with "not everything American is bad" which kind of makes them realise what they are saying and apologise.

When I was studying at the University of Melbourne in the mid-1990s I took a few American politics classes. In the first tutorial people were introducing themselves and expressing some fairly prejudiced views about the US. When it was the turn of another American girl and I to introduce ourselves you would not believe the sheepish looks on their faces when they heard our accents.

When I moved back to Melbourne 10 years ago it was during the height of Bush presidency (and post-Katrina) and the anti-American sentiment was off the charts. I got blamed for having voted for him (not true) and I wouldn't dare speak out loud on public transport as I didn't want people to hear my accent. I also had to deal with being called a yank or seppo (septic tank = yank in rhyming slang) at work.

Of course, when Obama became President things improved (although they didn't give me any credit for voting for him). However, anti-Americanism is always lurking under the surface. Any article in the paper about American things will always have a string of really hostile comments under it. Political parties also like to use American as code to scare people, with the Labor Party the main culprits around higher education and health care. It reminds me of Republicans when they would say "San Francisco values" as code to frighten middle America.

What goes around comes around, and it's only been during the past year when Abbott was Prime Minister and trashing Australia's reputation internationally that I think Australians finally got a taste of what it was like for Americans during the Bush years. This may be the first time that Australia is being seen in a bad light politically around the world for its treatment of refugees and views on climate change.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Expat Observations: Racism

Melton protest. Photo by Chris Hopkins
Today saw another wave of anti-Islamic rallies around the country by the right-wing group Reclaim Australia. Thankfully they were countered by anti-racism protesters, but these nationalistic movements are nothing new. Recent examples include Pauline Hanson and the One Nation Party, and the 2005 Cronulla riots in Sydney, where the Australian flag became a symbol of hate.

There is a casual racism that still pervades Australian society, which isn't that much of a surprise when you consider White Australia policy existed until 1975. Each new wave of refugees and migrants faces discrimination (particularly those that are non-white). In addition, Indigenous Australians continue to face institutionalised racism, with the closure of remote communities in WA just the latest injustice.

One glaring example of racism that played out this year was the treatment of AFL footballer Adam Goodes. The two-time Brownlow medallist, dual Premiership player with the Sydney Swans, and 2014 Australian of the Year was continuously booed during games this season just because he dared to show pride in his culture by doing a war dance after a goal during the Indigenous Round (!). The racial vilification got so bad after a game in Perth that he decided not to play the following week, and was ready to never play again. What made him return was a huge campaign of support for him by the public and players in that next round. Adam Goodes retired at the end of the season, but still continues to face racist comments, with the latest incident being when he was named a brand ambassador for the department store David Jones. Once again people stood with Adam, but the fact this keeps happening demonstrates the overt racism that persists in Australia.

Joelistics- The Workers Club

Last night the fantastic Joelistics played his last show for the year in Melbourne at The Workers Club. The opening act was Indigenous rapper Birdz, who rapped about culture and country and along with DJ Marze got the crowd moving. Next up was writer and slam poet Omar Musa with DJ B.TWO on the decks. He played a powerful set, with his new song "Dead Centre" being the standout track.

The room was completely packed by the time Joelistics and DJ Beatrice hit the stage. He started with my favorite song off of Blue Volume, the politically charged "Say I'm Good." The set was a mix of tracks from his two albums, with highlights including "Head Right," "The People," "Glorious Feeling," "Days" and "Out Of The Blue." Joel also invited a couple guests up onto the stage with Birdz doing a song they are working on together, and MPD drum pad player Dollface doing some beats. It was a fun show with some great energy, and the crowd went off for the closing track of the night "In The Morning."

Here's the video for "Out Of The Blue"

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Expat Observations: Road Rules

For the most part road rules in Australia are similar to what I'm used to in the United States, but there are some key differences that one needs to be aware of if driving here.

Keep to the left: Australians drive on the left side of the road. This is easy to remember, but you can experience some temporary panic at intersections if you aren't sure you have turned onto the correct side of the road (in addition to the problem of accidentally hitting the windshield wipers instead of the turn signal).

Roundabouts: There aren't many roundabouts in the States as we have four way stops at intersections (sometimes with blinking red lights so everyone takes their turn). Single lane roundabouts make sense, but it's when you get into those giant multi-lane ones that things can get confusing. Perhaps I just need to sing The Basics "Roundabout" to remember the rules.

Hook turns: Hook turns are a unique feature of driving in the Melbourne CBD so that you don't block trams. Signs clearly mark the intersections where to make a right turn you have to do it from the far left hand lane as the light is about to change. Yes, this confuses many people who aren't used to it.

Stopping for trams: This is a big one for me as a public transport user as I don't want to get hit by a car when getting off the tram. When a tram stops in the road cars also need to stop so that people can get off and on safely. They can only continue driving and pass the tram when it closes the doors and starts to move again.

Motorcycle parking: For some reason motorcycles and scooters are allowed to park on the sidewalk in Melbourne as well as in designated parking spots. I still don't understand why this is the case.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Expat Observations: Tipping

While some people do tip in Australia, it really is not obligatory like it is in the United States. Here wait staff are paid an average of $15.50 AU an hour (going up to $20+ AU on weekends with penalty rates), while in the States that drops to $4.00 US per hour.

As you can see, it's a matter of survival for US wait staff to get their 15-20% tip, and establishment owners unfortunately factor in what they should be getting in tips when determining salaries. I also think US wait staff earn it more by providing superior customer service to their Australian counterparts. If I were to get exceptional service here I would be willing to leave a tip, but considering wage rates and the cost of a meal I rarely feel the need to leave a tip on a bill.

SUCCESS: Liam Finn

Tonight I went to see SUCCESS at ACMI, a specially created piece by Liam Finn and New York filmmakers Anthony & Alex for Melbourne Music Week. The piece tackled the concept of success through a series of filmed vignettes and performance pieces accompanied by Liam playing original compositions and improvisations live.

The performance started with a clip of Liam backstage getting ready and warming up before he came into the room. Next was an interview clip between Liam and his brother Elroy, which was quite funny with some pointed barbs. Then Liam performed the song "Miracle Glance" with a theremin that was mirrored by the clip shown on the screen.

From there the piece went into the series of vignettes, with each one commencing by focusing up close on someone's eyes before pulling back to the scene. The music Liam played varied from the somber to manic with him jumping between guitar and piano and triggering different loops. The clips by Anthony & Alex were quite interesting and sometimes disturbing. The most memorable one for me was a woman cutting out the bottoms of small teddy bears and inserting dollar bills interspersed with footage of kids in Halloween costumes. I got nervous when it went from the first bear being cut to a shot of a baby in a bear costume, but thankfully it didn't take the dark turn I was fearing. SUCCESS was an interesting and thought provoking performance piece that will take a while to digest and mull over.

To give you an idea of the clips, here are three teasers that Liam put up ahead of the performance.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Expat Observations: Australian Rules Football

If Melbourne had a religion, it would be Australian Rules Football. Aussie Rules is the native game of the country, played on an oval field with an oval shaped ball. Players are allowed to kick and handball the ball to teammates on the field, and you score by kicking the ball through the posts - 6 points (a goal) if through the center of the tall sticks, and 1 point (a behind) if through the sticks on either side.

The game is fantastic to watch as there is such a flow of play as players run up and down the field. One of the unique features of the game is players leaping and elevating themselves onto the backs of other players to mark the ball. There are also some amazing goals that are kicked from impossible angles.

When I first arrived in Melbourne I was living in Carlton so I thought I would pick them as my team. However, my friends talked me out of that decision and I ended up becoming an Essendon supporter. While they are a proud and successful club, it has been a trying past few years with the 2012 supplements scandal still hanging over the club and players. I am hopeful this will all be over once the WADA appeal is done in December. With new coach John Worsfold (ex-premiership coach of West Coast) it may finally be the turning point the club needs to have a successful season.

You may assume that the game would be the equivalent of the NFL in popularity nationally, but that is not the case. While Victoria is firmly Aussie Rules, New South Wales and Queensland are rugby states. There really isn't a unifying sport that everyone watches around the country. Aussie Rules is also the only sport I'm aware of that seems to have significant rule changes every year because the AFL brass can't seem to help themselves.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Expat Observations: Currency

One of the fun things when you go to a new country is getting to use the local currency. Unlike the US dollar, the Australian dollar is colorful with each note being a different size. This makes it much easier to find what you are looking for quickly. Australia doesn't have $1 bills or one cent coins - there are $1 and $2 gold coins, and the lowest value coin is the five cent piece (which means things are rounded up or down). Each note features a historical male and female Australian figure on the front and back (with Queen Elizabeth and Parliament House on the $5 note being the exception). In 1996 Australia became the first country in the world to have a complete series of polymer notes.

The value of the Australian dollar relative to the US dollar has fluctuated since the currency was first floated in 1983. The lowest value was 47.75 US cents in 2001, and the highest was $1.108 US dollars in 2011. It was a fantastic time when we were above parity in that 2010-2011 period. I think Australians truly discovered international online shopping then. Unfortunately, we are now back in the doldrums with the current exchange rate at 71 US cents. This means things are not in my favor when I travel home for a visit.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Expat Observations: Late Night Talk Shows

Late night talk shows are an institution in the United States. All the main networks have them, and there are even more on basic cable. These shows provide topical monologues at the start commenting on the day's news, comedy bits, interviews with tv and film stars or other people of note, and musical or stand-up comedy guests. They are an important part of the tv landscape and a way for acts to break out in popularity.

How many late night talk shows are there in Australia? ZERO. The closest I've seen in my time here has been Rove on Ten, and Adam Hills in Gordon Street Tonight on the ABC, but even those shows were on in prime time. If you did want to see a late night talk show on free to air tv your only option is to watch those imported from the States - The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and The Late Late Show with James Corden.

I have never understood why the format isn't on tv here as you think there would be at least one show. It's very unfortunate for Australian acts as they really have no where to go to promote their latest projects, tv shows, films or albums except for morning tv and news/entertainment shows like The Project (and that's if they can get on as those shows are more likely to have international guests who are in town). How can the next great Australian band or comedian be discovered in such a closed media environment? And how can Australia get nightly social commentary on things that are happening in the country without a late night host to hold those in power to account for their actions?

Monday, November 16, 2015

Expat Observations: Bush Flies

If you have ever been in Australia in the spring or summer you will be well acquainted with the most annoying creatures on the planet - bush flies! There is a bumper crop of them this year as it has been a warm October.

These bush flies blow into town and are a nightmare to deal with as they will not leave you alone. It makes me long for my chill and languid California flies. Constantly swatting them away from your face with your hand is known as the "Aussie salute." So what will spare us from a nightmare summer of constantly being attacked? The humble dung beetle, according to CSIRO entomologists, which will take away the bush flies' breeding ground - cow dung.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Expat Observations: Melbourne vs Sydney

There is nothing like a good city rivalry to get the blood pumping, and Melbourne vs Sydney is Australia's equivalent of this time-honored tradition. Dan Kelly even wrote a song about it. Each city has its own unique personality and attractions to set it apart from the other. So which one is best?

Sydney is obviously Australia's oldest and best known city. It is a leading tourist destination that draw people from around the world to see landmark attractions like the Sydney Opera House, Harbour Bridge and The Rocks. Sydney also has pretty good weather, fantastic beaches and a laid back surfer vibe. It is the home of rugby league and the entertainment capital of the country. Sydney has the glitz and the glam with its beautiful people and large nightclubs, and reminds me of Los Angeles.

Melbourne is the sporting and cultural capital of Australia, and has been named the world's most livable city by The Economist numerous times. It is the spiritual home of Australian Rules Football (AFL) and hosts the Australian Open (tennis) and Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix each year. Melbourne is a foodie mecca and known for its street art and thriving music scene. While it doesn't have landmark attractions like the Opera House, it is a city where you can wander around and discover hidden gems down the laneways and arcades in the CBD. This can be a good thing as Melbourne is also known for its unpredictable weather, so it's good to be able to duck into a cafe for a bit and wait for the weather to change. Melbourne reminds me of San Francisco as they have a similar vibe.

As you can see, each city has something unique to offer. For me though there is no contest - I chose to live in Melbourne for a reason. However, sometimes it is nice to make a quick visit to the Emerald City.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Crayon Fields- No One Deserves You Album Launch

It's been six years since the last Crayon Fields album was released, so it was definitely a time to celebrate with the album launch for No One Deserves You at Howler tonight. Opening proceedings was indie band The Goon Sax from Brisbane. This teenage trio played an excellent set, with everyone taking a turn on lead vocals at some point. They are definitely an act to keep an eye on, and will be releasing their debut album next year. Second on the bill was Totally Mild, who played a much more coherent set than the last time I saw them opening for Oh Mercy.

I have loved Crayon Fields' previous albums, but for some reason never managed to see them live before tonight. Their set was just as dreamy and fantastic as I was expecting it to be. They started with "Slow Magic" and played most of the songs off of No One Deserves You throughout the set. Highlights were "No One Deserves You," "If I Could," "She's My Hero" and "Somewhere Good," which is my favorite track off the album. Lead singer Geoffrey O'Connor was quite funny with his little antidotes in between songs. It was also great to get to hear the tracks "Disappear," "Mirror Ball," "Voice Of Paradise" and "All The Pleasures Of The World" off their last release. The evening ended with them playing "So Do I" for an encore. Overall it was a great set and I wish they would have played for longer. Hopefully they will do some more shows in the future to support the album.

Here's the video for "She's My Hero"

Expat Observations: Terrorism

Peace for Paris by Jean Jullien
I was very sad to wake up to the news this morning of the terror attacks in Paris, which have killed over 120 people and injured hundreds of others, the majority of whom were attending an Eagles of Death Metal concert at the Bataclan. This attack is in addition to the suicide bombings in Beirut a day earlier that killed 43 people and injured hundreds more.

The world's leaders have condemned the Paris attacks, and people around the globe are standing in solidarity with the people of France. Many historic buildings are being lit up in the blue, white and red colors of the French flag to honor the victims. It was lovely to see the true humanity of people in the way they helped their fellow citizens and offered people shelter in their homes using the #PorteOuverte hashtag. It reminded me of the aftermath of the Martin Place siege in Sydney and the #illridewithyou hashtag where people offered to ride public transport with Muslims who may have been fearful to ride alone due to anti-Islamic sentiment.

Thankfully Malcolm Turnbull is Australia's Prime Minister, so we didn't have to hear the phrase "death cult" today and witness a bunch of fearmongering and posturing by our conservative government. As we continue to experience terrorism it does make me wonder what kind of world would we all be living in if Al Gore had won the presidential election in 2000 instead of George W. Bush? My thoughts go out to all those affected by these terror attacks.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Expat Observations: Street Art

Melbourne is known globally for its street art and it is a huge tourist attraction for the city. All of those laneways around town are the perfect canvas for street artists, with Hosier Lane probably the best known spot (and one that is constantly evolving). There are some very talented artists here and these are some of my favorites.

Baby Guerrilla is best known for her large scale stencil paste-ups, which often have people floating in the air. Some of her more recent work can be found on buildings around the Victoria University Footscray Park campus.

Be Free is best known for her stencils of a little girl doing various things depending on the space that has been chosen. There is a lightness and sense of fun in her work that is very appealing to a wide audience.

Rone paints the most amazingly detailed portraits of women you will ever see. He also did the four Aussie muses for last year's Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition in Melbourne. His latest work is a mural at Etihad Stadium of two female AFL fans in the crowd cheering on their team.

Adnate is another artist who does very detailed portrait work, and is probably best known for his beautiful paintings of the faces of Indigenous children.

Alexander Gow- MPavilion

This morning, as part of Melbourne Music Week's Morning Ritual and the Face the Music conference, we were treated to a concert by Alexander Gow of Oh Mercy at the MPavilion in the Queen Victoria Gardens. Unfortunately it was a drizzly and chilly start to the day, but at least the structure designed by AL_A kept people dry.

Alex played an acoustic set and started (ironically?) with "Deep Heat." We got to hear "Let Me Be Him," "Iron Cross," and "Lady Eucalyptus" off of his latest album When We Talk About Love, and "Drums" and "My Man" from Deep Heat. The two special moments of the set were getting to hear the unreleased track "Get On" live for the first time, and Alex's cover of the Leonard Cohen song "One Of Us Cannot Be Wrong." It was a lovely way to my Friday, and as always, a pleasure to see Alex play live.

You can check out the When We Talk About Love acoustic series on the Oh Mercy Facebook page. Also, here's a video of "Without You" from the Parlour gig I attended in June (hint- you may see someone you know in it).

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Expat Observations: Monarchy vs Republic

Photo by AAP: Mick Tsikas
The future King of England is visiting some of his countries in the South Pacific at the moment. Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall were in Canberra yesterday for a Remembrance Day service as part of their visit to Australia. Prince Charles also met with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at Government House, which was probably a bit awkward as Turnbull was chairman of the Australian Republican Movement from 1993-2000.

Currently Australia is a constitutional monarchy, with the Queen of England as its head of state. The Queen is represented here by the Governor-General. In 1999 a republican referendum was held but neither of the amendments passed. While there does seem to be support for Australia to become a republic, the form it will take seems to be a stumbling block. Most leaders have also stated they won't pursue the issue until Queen Elizabeth's reign ends.

I am sure that Australians will ditch the monarchy at some point, but the question is when? Tony Abbott probably did the most to help the republican cause when he awarded a knighthood to Prince Philip on Australia Day (thankfully Turnbull got rid of knights and dames from the Order of Australia honours soon after he became Prime Minister). However, if it is Prince William who becomes King instead of his father, the monarchy may be safe for quite some time.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Expat Observations: Remembrance Day

Remembrance Day is celebrated in Commonwealth countries on 11 November each year to observe the armistice on the "eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month" that ended hostilities on the Western Front in World War I in 1918. It is supposed to be a day for remembering all soldiers who have died in battle. However, like Anzac Day, it is still steeped in this mythology of World War I and the forging of Australia's national identity.

I find it fascinating how Australia still seems to have not moved on from the legend of the Gallipoli ANZAC soldiers. In the United States we have Memorial Day to celebrate those soldiers who have lost their lives (which commenced after the Civil War), and renamed Armistice Day to Veterans Day in 1954 to celebrate the service of all military veterans. These are much more inclusive holidays that honor those who have served in the armed forces in different wars over time. Perhaps one day Australia will focus more on the service of its more recent veterans and not those from 100 years ago.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Expat Observations: Human Rights

Australia had its Universal Periodic Review by the United Nations Human Rights Council early this morning in Geneva. Over 100 countries commented and made recommendations on Australia's human rights record. Considering the Coalition Government campaigned on a promise to "stop the boats" and is currently holding men, women and children seeking asylum in detention camps on Nauru and Manus Island, Australia was rightly called out for its human rights abuses. Australia is the only country in the world to use offshore processing and mandatory detention. Countries called on Australia to stop boat turnbacks, end the detention of asylum seekers and refoulement, and to ratify the optional protocol to the Convention Against Torture so that independent observers can visit the camps.

The other main recommendations centered around Australia's treatment of its Indigenous people, including the closure of remote communities, constitutional recognition, high levels of incarceration, and closing the gap around health, education, housing and employment. Australia will have a few months to decide which recommendations from the UPR report it will accept. Considering it is bidding for a seat on the Human Rights Council from 2018-20, it will be interesting to see the Government's response.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Expat Observation: Music

Australian music has always been a part of my life, with those late 1970s and early 1980s hits by the Bee Gees, Olivia Newton-John, Men At Work and Air Supply peaking a curiosity in the USA about Australian bands. The next wave came in the mid-late 1980s with bands such as INXS, Midnight Oil, Crowded House, The Church and Hunters & Collectors scoring airplay on college and alternative radio stations and getting their videos played on MTV. It was then that my lifelong love of Crowded House started as "Don't Dream It's Over" went to number 2 on the charts.

I continued to monitor the Australian music scene and when I did a year abroad at the University of Melbourne in the mid-1990s I got to discover some new artists playing around town at the time, including Things of Stone and Wood, My Friend the Chocolate Cake, Deadstar, Dave Graney 'n' The Coral Snakes and You Am I.

When I moved back to Melbourne in 2005 I really started to plug into the music scene once again, which wasn't hard to do because there were so many venues around town. If you wanted to you could go out to see a band every night of the week here. My love of indie music remains strong, with 2007-2008 probably the strongest period for bands from Melbourne with the likes of Little Red, Oh Mercy, The Basics, Gotye, The Harpoons, The Good China, CW Stoneking and Eddy Current Suppression Ring playing gigs and/or releasing EPs and albums. Some of those bands have since disbanded, but the scene remains vibrant, even in spite of gentrification in the northern suburbs and closing down of some music venues. I am constantly discovering new bands and artists (it pays to catch the warm-up acts at gigs), and there have been a number of fantastic releases this year. Melbourne is the musical heart of Australia, and Friday will see the start of the annual Face the Music conference and Melbourne Music Week.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Expat Observations: Animals

Yesterday was the Great Victorian Koala Count where people could register to become certified koala counters and walk around parts of the state to record how many koalas they could see. Being an island continent means that there are many animals that can only be found in Australia, including the koala, kangaroo, wallaby, wombat, platypus, dingo and echidna. Australia is also known for its crocodiles, spiders and snakes, many of which are some of the deadliest in the world.

These animals are a big attraction for tourists who love to be able to get a photo and see them in person at a zoo, wildlife park or even in the wild (if you are lucky). I was able to see some koalas while touring the Great Ocean Road last year, and also saw kangaroos when I was at the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve in the ACT many years ago. One thing I find interesting is the everyday animals from back home that don't exist here in Australia such as squirrels, raccoons and skunks.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Expat Observations: Food Trucks

In a foodie town like Melbourne it is no surprise that food trucks have taken off in popularity over the last few years. There used to be only a few trucks that you would track on social media to several different spots around town, but now the numbers and locations seem to grow by the week. There are not only your classic burger, taco and BBQ trucks, but also an increasing number of trucks that are focused on the cuisine of various cultures and nationalities.

While some councils have cut down on the number of trucks that can park at a given time in any one location, the truck owners have started to set up more permanent spots to do business. Welcome To Thornbury and The Food Truck Park in Preston are two such spots with a rotating range of trucks on any given night. And some of the more popular trucks like Mr Burger and Gumbo Kitchen have opened up restaurant locations in the inner city. It is an ever evolving scene. Now all we need are more dessert trucks out on the road.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Expat Observations: Tuna

Australians really love their canned tuna. In the States we would primarily add mayonnaise and lemon pepper to make tuna fish sandwiches or use plain tuna in a casserole. However, here in Australia it seems to be all about the flavored tuna. The supermarket shelves are packed with a variety of different types- tomato, chili, sundried tomato, and cracked pepper just to name a few. People either eat it straight out of the can or put onto a salad. It seems to be a big component of people's lunches and snacks here, even with concerns about the overfishing of tuna in the ocean. I find it fascinating how the same food can be eaten differently depending on the culture of the country you are in.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Expat Observations: Weather

Today's thunderstorms (BOM)
Melbourne's weather is notoriously erratic. One minute it can be hot, then a change will come through with rain and cool things down, and then later on it might get hot again. This unpredictable weather inspired the Crowded House song "Four Seasons In One Day."

Today was a typical Melbourne day- raining in the morning, clearing with some sunshine, then the sky going black and a massive downpour, and finally sunshine again. It rained so hard this afternoon that there were waterfalls coming off the roof of our building at work. The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) issued a severe thunderstorm advisory and tornado warning, with a tornado forming in the northern suburbs! This is not normal, even for Melbourne.

You would think with such varied weather that our local newscasters would be highly qualified meteorologists with the most advanced radar and weather forecasts possible. That's what I grew up with in the Bay Area- it was weather warfare between stations using the latest technology to try and have the most accurate forecasts for all of our different micro-climates. However, here in Melbourne you are more likely to see ex-sports stars or models presenting the weather. It was funny when 7News recently hired a qualified meteorologist and actually used that in promos for their news broadcasts. You would think it should just be a given.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Expat Observations: Public Transport

Melbourne has a lot of different public transportation options ranging from trains to trams to buses. Complaining about public transport is a favorite past time of many people, but I actually don't find the system to be that bad. I will note that I live in the inner city, so my experiences are quite different from those living further out. However, for someone who has grown up in California where a car is a requirement if you want to get anywhere, I love being able to hop onto a tram or train to get around town. In fact, I have managed to live here for 10 years without needing to own a car. That would not be a possibility back in the States.

The one thing I do find annoying about the network is that its design means all modes lead in and out of the CBD. Trying to get across town, especially in the northern suburbs, is a big pain and I often have to travel in to the city and then switch lines to go back up. While there are bus lines that go across town, they don't run that frequently (or at all late at night).

Overall though, I really can't complain as things are fairly reliable most of the time. One exciting development is that starting next year there will be all night public transport on weekends. This will be great, especially for getting home from those late night gigs I attend. Melbourne also even has an award winning public safety campaign around trains called "Dumb Ways To Die." What other public transport system can claim to have a catchy song and online game in app stores?

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Expat Observations: Spring Racing Carnival

Photo by Robert Cianflone
It's currently the Spring Racing Carnival in Melbourne, which not only features horse racing but fashion, parties in the Birdcage and on the grounds, and lots of betting. I have been to a couple races over the years - Stakes Day in 2005 and the Melbourne Cup in 2008. The Melbourne Cup Carnival is a huge economic boon for Victoria, with $20.91 million in food and beverage, $13.67 in retail, $7.61 million in grooming and $31.4 million in fashion spending in 2014. Fashion spending included 75,000 hats and fascinators, 61,000 dresses, 59,000 pairs of shoes, 30,000 handbags, 17,000 shirts and 15,000 suits. As you can see, the Carnival is big business.

Today was the 155th running of the Emirates Melbourne Cup. Only in sports mad Melbourne would you have a public holiday for a horse race. This year's Cup was an exciting one with 100-1 shot Prince Of Penzance winning, ridden by the first female jockey to ever take the Cup, Michelle Payne. Her after race interview was refreshingly honest about the struggles female jockeys face:
"To think that Darren Weir has given me a go and it's such a chauvinistic sport, I know some of the owners were keen to kick me off, and John Richards and Darren stuck strongly with me, and I put in all the effort I could and galloped him all I could because I thought he had what it takes to win the Melbourne Cup and I can't say how grateful I am to them. I want to say to everyone else, get stuffed, because women can do anything and we can beat the world."
Max Dynamite finished second, with Criterion coming in third. Unfortunately Red Cadeaux, who finished second in three previous Cups, broke down and didn't finish the race. At this stage it looks like he won't have to be put down, but it's just a reminder of the brutality of horse racing.
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